Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Effects of Workplace Bullying on the Victim aka Target

The landscape of bullying aka workplace abuse is difficult to describe as it is constantly changing, especially if - as in my case with situation #2 - I was steadily working through my previous life time long issues and becoming healthier emotionally.  That progress, though, didn't stop or even detour the abuse.  If anything, it seemed to escalate the behaviours.

At its best, the landscape of bullying might resemble this picture taken in Scotland in 2009 with low-hanging, threatening clouds.  At its worst....

In the past, I was not allowed to talk about what had happened to me in the workplace.  First, my immediate supervisor imposed arbitrary standards of what she considered professional - or not professional - in the workplace.  I ended up feeling imposed silence and isolation due to the constant barrage of criticisms - most of which were based on behaviour rather than work-related issues.

To compound everything, while I felt a lot of pain, excruciating pain, and a compulsion to talk about what had happened to me, I had no idea that I had survived what constituted a trauma with resultant PTSD.  And nobody else was aware of it either.

I felt well and truly isolated even after the situation had ended.

I also carried with me a bagful of nasty emotions.  And confusion.  I simply could not understand why my best was not good enough.  Why being amazing was not good enough.  Why a customer reference was considered "unprofessional".  Things were constantly being thrown at me.  Thrown at me in sudden meetings which since they were sudden I could not prepare for in advance.  It just didn't seem logical - to me.  Nothing made any sense.  Since I'm a left-brained person, the left brain being the logical part, the cognitive part, the part that tries to make sense of things, my mind seemed to always be racing - trying to find the logic in something that essentially had none.

As I write this series, I am becoming more and more aware of the dynamics which were taking place at the time.

For one, there was not a chance in hell that I could win in this situation.  Breaking even?  I doubt that was even possible.

As I've researched the last few days re: the specific dynamics which were happening in this workplace specifically the overload of work and the lack of appreciation, I came across other symptoms which at first glance I rejected out of hand.  These were not what was happening to in the workplace me but rather how my body (and my emotions) were reacting to the constant onslaught.  The brutal stress I was enduring in the workplace.  At first I rejected even looking at these points.  Now, though, I think it's important for those of us who have been, and who currently are, being subjected to bullying behaviour in the workplace to recognize what it is doing to us so that we can recognize that we are being the victims of workplace abuse by what our bodies and emotions are telling us.

If I had only known then what I know now???  An open-ended question to be sure.  Would I have continued to strive to be recognized?  To gain that coveted permanent job which was constantly being held like a carrot on a string in front of me?  Too late I realized that that string was attached to my own tail.  Leading me on, but not in a productive (for me) way.

Or would I have followed my heart and emotions and walked out the door one day for my usual after lunch walk and simply never come back?  However, since I didn't know these things at the time, my options were few and far between.  Limited because of my (skewed) understanding of the dynamics behind the situation.

As I mentioned yesterday, I keyed in these words, "You know you've been bullied at work when".  One of the matches actually contained those exact words as a sub-heading under the heading:  Early Signs of Bullying."

So here goes:

Early Signs of Bullying

You know you've been bullied at work when ....

Experiences Outside Work
  • You feel like throwing up the night before the start of your work week
  • Your frustrated famly demands that you stop obsessing about work at home
  • Your doctor asks what could be causing your skyrocketing blood pressure and recent health problems, and tells you to change jobs
  • You feel too ashamed of being controlled by another person at work to tell your spouse or partner.
  • All your paid time off is used for "mental health breaks" from the misery
  • Days off are spent exhausted and lifeless, your desire to do anything is gone
  • Your favorite activities and fun with family are no longer appealing or enjoyable
  • You begin to believe that you provoked the workplace cruelty. (
Although, not all of the above applies me to, especially the bullet point about mental health days since I didn't have any and to take any would have validated their view that I was "unstable", enough of the bullets apply.  My blood pressure went sky high the first week I was alone doing 1 1/2 jobs and never did go down until later ... much later.  I was under my doctor's care for months - even after the contract ended.  Towards the end, I was tired and listless and was spending all my time outside work, including evenings trying to regroup to endure and survive the next work day.  Although I never was nauseous (that I can recall), I do vividly remember waking up on Monday mornings feeling like my entire innards had sunk into my spine, like something heavy was on my chest.  Sometimes the pressure on my chest was so great that I would struggle to breathe.  My mind would be in a deep fog, so deep that it felt like I was swimming in molasses to get to the top.   I would struggle to remember what day of the week it was.  When I realized that it was Monday and I not only had to make it through that work day but had the entire work week in front of me, I would sink in despair.  I had no clue how I was going to make it through the work week until friday at 6 p.m.

I became more and more irritable outside of work and my family became increasingly frustrated with me.  At that time (pre-recovery), I did not know how to communicate with my loved ones and tended to keep things bottled up inside until they would ferment to the point of overflowing.  Not pretty.  Definitely not healthy.  And certainly not in the best interests of my home life and marriage.

On top of the above, I had trouble sleeping.  I could get to sleep, but if I woke up in the middle of the night, I could not get back to sleep.  My mind was churning overtime.  I would toss and turn and turn and toss over and over.  It was not unusual to get four hours of sleep per night.  The rest of the time being spent thinking.  Warm milk became my good friend.  It worked - to a degree.  So did middle of the night games of Sudoku.  As did reading my Bible - especially the Psalms.

Many a time in those last three months, the contract from hell, I would sit at my kitchen table, alone, miserable while the other family members slept, afraid that I would wake them up.  Playing Sudoko, reading my Bible - or both - while drinking several cups of warm milk until my mind felt fuzzy enough and blank enough to try going to sleep again.

While I was struggling through each night, drinking warm milk, reading my Bible and playing Sudoku at my kitchen table, the "storm" clouds in the workplace continued to gather, continued to grow stronger.

Soon, we will get back into the narrative - the story - of those last three months and the horrific ending to that contract.  For now, though, we will look at the gathering storm, marvelling at it's intensity, destructive possibilities all the while aware of its incredible wildness, majesty and, yes, beauty (at least in the setting of nature).

Until tomorrow....

1 comment:

  1. Hi.
    You have gone through some tough situations and believe me when I say I can understand where you were at. I personally was in such a situation and I am thankful that God opened a door so that I could leave that poisonous environment. However, I still learned a lot because I knew I was in the wrong place at the time I was going through it. I kept going because my family didn't want me to throw away the years I had worked there. But what is staying there and going to pieces when you can leave and move into the purpose for your life and receive joy. It doesn't mean that moving into what your life's purpose will make you problem free, but it does mean that you will face your problems optimistically because God is in control and you're doing the best thing for you.
    I enjoyed reading your article and look forward to the next one.